Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Of natural disasters and the "sympathy" factor

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sun, Sep 4, 2005 at 10:24 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:18 IST)

I read about Hurricane Katrina. Everywhere you see messages of "heartfelt" sympathy and condolences. This has made me seriously think about this subject in a honest way.

And so I want to be brutally frank and honest here. How many of us can say that any sympathy that we express is "heartfelt" in the true sense of the word? I guess not many. It is one thing to make the right noises about it, but totally another to do so in a heartfelt way.

It is not because most of us are heartless or cruel. It is just that whenever a disaster of such epic proportions takes place in any part of the world, the very magnitude of it not only overwhelms our imagination but is also, at many levels, incomprehensible. In other words, those images of destruction and devastation actually numb our senses. Quite simply, most people who live in other parts of the world (or even the same part of the world and who were not affected personally) simply wouldn't understand what this disaster is all about by looking at two dimensional still images or even at television visuals.

The Asian tsunami was a very good example of this. The scale of devastation was mind-numbing and even a person living in affected countries could not quite understand the impact of this single event of nature. Even those of us who are close to the tradegy and the place of devastation. Yet, they are called upon to express not only sympathy and condolences, but also offer aid and assistance materially. I think that the only way one can understand such a disaster is to experience it first hand or be personally affected by it. Otherwise, although help and sympathy will be forthcoming, none of this will be "heartfelt" in the true sense of the word.

Let me just say that on a personal level, I simply don't understand this Hurricane's impact. Quite simply, it is amazing how a single storm of nature could wreak such havoc. The unbelievable high wind speeds, the enormity of the flooding, the large scale destruction of property, the loss of human life and livelihood... everything appears to be so big! The human mind simply cannot process all this information and so we remain merely curious and interested. However much you might protest against this, let me tell you that this is true of 99% of us. It is only the pressure to sound right in public makes us sympathize and make the right noises. Indeed, it is rare to find people who are truly heartfelt in their empathy and material assistance. It takes a very special human being to have whole-hearted empathy and understanding towards fellow human beings. That's why you don't get a Mahatma Gandhi or an Abraham Lincoln in every generation.

Joseph Stalin once said that the death of one human being is a tragedy, but the death of millions is a statistic. However unpopular the dictator might have been, there seems to be some scientific truth to this as far as the way our minds are tuned to receiving and comprehending information. Anything that overwhelms our intellect or emotion is simply rejected. That's the bare truth. In many ways, it's nothing but an involuntary defence mechanism that prevents most of us from breaking down emotionally or mentally. On the other hand, we do experience extreme emotions in the case of personal tragedies and experiences simply because we can relate to it and probably handle its impact over time. As simple as that.

One thing is certain though. Before the ultimate fury of nature, human beings continue to remain hapless children in every sense of the word. Simply acknowledging this fact could be the greatest tribute we pay to nature and the best way to develop a healthy empathy towards the victims of such disasters.
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Speaking of rules

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Tue, Aug 30, 2005 at 16:54 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:51 IST)

Another issue of the newsletter! A warm welcome to all my regular readers! In this issue, I will focus on a couple of issues. Let's take it from the top.

First of all, I recently rewrote all the board rules and policies of LiteraryForums.org in an attempt to cover more aspects and to clarify certain points. I am not an expert at framing rules but I did believe that as we grow bigger the rules need to keep adapting to situations as they arise. With LiteraryForums.org now reaching 100+ members I think I owe it to the regular members to know what my vision of LiteraryForums.org is.

So why did I rewrite and reframe the forum rules? Quite simple. My goal is to make LiteraryForums.org the friendliest book community on the internet and by friendly, I mean friendly to all age groups. In other words, the content that appears on LiteraryForums.org should be suitable for under-13. Last month, we did have a couple of instances where a member did submit content that really did not go well with the spirit of LiteraryForums.org. After consultation with the moderators, I decided that we needed to update the rules to make it absolutely clear on our official stance on the issue. It woke me up to the danger of allowing adult content to slowly filter through without having a policy that strictly prevented it. I wanted no ambiguity on that! To keep this place clean we need your support and I'm sure most of you will agree with this policy.

On another note, I have joined an MBA course and shall be busy six days a week. Though the schedule is not very tight, I shall still be busy enough not to be able to visit the forums frequently. This means that I'm looking for an extra moderator (if needed). The post is currently vacant though I have a couple of names in mind (let me not reveal them at this stage ;)). Do Let me know if you have any suggestions in this regard and your specific choice if you have anybody in mind. I am discussing this with the current moderation team at this moment and I shall probably appoint a new moderator soon. Your votes will have a say in the final reckoning, so here's your chance to take part in the decision-making process!

Finally, as usual let me end this with a big thanks to those who've made LiteraryForums.org a success!

Yours Sincerely,

Hari (Forum Host)
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My home page is now up

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Thu, Aug 18, 2005 at 11:42 IST (last updated: Thu, Sep 27, 2007 @ 15:47 IST)

I've finally put up my personal home page. I'll try to collect as much useful Debian/Linux information there as possible. I'm figuratively out of breath (meaning, my usual eloquence has run dry) after all that work of writing content. Therefore without any further ado, I present it to you: www.harishankar.org.

Do post your thoughts and comments on the design and content.
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Indian Cricket needs to move on

Filed under: Sports by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 10, 2005 at 10:34 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:23 IST)

Yes, this is my first Cricket post. It had to happen at some time. (Meta comment: whether I create a new Cricket category to accomodate a new Cricket section, however, remains to be seen.).

India lost to Sri Lanka in the Indian Oil Cup triangular tournament final yesterday (whether we need such meaningless triangular tournaments at all is another question altogether). I expected this after their struggle to victory against a rookie West Indian team. There was a depressing finality about the whole thing which makes for a sobering analysis of this current Indian team. Rather than sugarcoat the loss, I will be quite blunt about it: quite simply, the current Indian team played like a bunch of losers throughout the tournament.

Why such a harsh assessment? In the first place, I think that the whole team management has their priorities screwed up. Ganguly didn't deserve a place in the team in spite of his half century earlier (scored painfully slowly and with the sole intention of cementing his place in the team). Suresh Raina, a brilliant fielder was left out. Zaheer Khan has been woefully inadequate and ineffective at best throughout the tournament and yet Laxmipathy Balaji who showed promise in the one match he played, was left out of this match. We played both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh against a team that is renowned for playing the spinners well. We had a slow, immobile fielding side with people like Ganguly and Nehra patrolling the square boundaries. We had an "all-rounder" in the squad in JP Yadav and yet the team didn't consider him good enough to play him even against a weakened West Indian team. The whole credibility of the Indian selection panel is now open to question.

This raises a lot of questions. Granted, the selection of the playing eleven was screwed up right through all the games. But I ask a very simply question: would this Indian side have won this tournament with any other playing eleven? I don't think so.

You see, the problem with the selection policy for a long time now is that it has always been extremely conservative. India haven't really tried out any youngsters consistently. We have never been looking forward to the future. We've always preferred to go with tried and tested players who've failed to deliver at a consistent level at the International level. This situation reminds me a lot of England in the late 80s and the early 90s. Look at them now and look at the reasons for their current success. The key lies in the difference in selection policies then and now.

I seriously think that for India to be successful in the long term, we've got to go with youth over experience. The so-called "experience" has not really justified selection. Ganguly, Kumble and Laxman don't inspire confidence any more. Their playing days are over and I don't think they deserve a place any more after all their wasted opportunities. Moreover all three are quite immobile on the field and are a weak link in the fielding side. Ganguly may have scored 10000 runs. Fine. Great opportunity to tell him "Thanks for all you've done, mate. Congrats on scoring 10000 runs in ODI cricket. But sorry, it's time we moved on." Ditto with Kumble. I do think that Dravid needs to be an independent captain with a totally new side and for this Ganguly needs to bow out or be shown out of the Indian team. We need more youngsters playing regularly in the team. If nothing else, look at what it does to the team spirit. A look at the current West Indian team gives us some great answers. The old definitely needs to make way for the new.

The answer is quite simple: throw out the "experienced" non-performers and go with the freshness and spirit of youth. Indian Cricket needs to come out of its conservative shell. Failure should be dealt with mercilessly. There should be no leeway for the so-called "senior" members. Nobody is indispensable.

My appeal to the selectors now is to allow Indian cricket to move on leaving behind the baggage of the past. The current "senior" players should realize the writing on the wall.
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XML and mainstream web development

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sat, Aug 6, 2005 at 20:54 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 20:58 IST)

I have been poking around XHTML quite recently and this has led me to become more and more interested in XML as a real viable alternative to the standard HTML as a web markup language. A lot of people do seem to be genuinely interesting in XML and tend to believe that the future of web design may well lie with XML rather than traditional HTML. And from what I've seen of XML so far, it does looks to be very sophisticated, structured, powerful and complex. Not at all trivial. Of course, the concept of XML is easy at first sight. It is a meta-markup language that allows you to develop custom structured documents and data within documents. It is really simple to understand XML at the theoritical level, but rather more difficult to implement as a practical solution for day to day needs.

I was going through an XML manual today and it struck me that while XML offers so much power, it becomes very difficult to put that power to use in a simple context like displaying content on a web page. For example, with plain HTML it is so easy to display data because HTML is geared to display and formatting web pages. Simply put HTML allows unstructured document creation. With XML you're on your own. How you store the data is up to you, but when it comes to displaying it, you need to learn how to design a XSL style sheet that effectively converts and displays your XML data on a browser. For example, you might have a phone directory stored in XML format, but how you display it in a web page is more work than actually storing the data. It also requires much more thinking that merely using tags to display bold, italic or underlined text or just displaying a heading in a HTML page. The average web designer is not a programmer. XML development requires a designer to think like a programmer - think in terms of objects, metatags and abstraction: separation of formatting from the document source. As it is, most web designers have problems with CSS. Imagine how much more trouble they would have understanding the XML concept. Though I am a programmer, I myself find it quite abstract and hard to understand without placing its usage into a context. XML is a non-contextual markup language and that's what makes it hard in day-to-day use. You have to plan your document data organization all on your own. You have to understand how to structure your XML document and learn how to place seemingly non-structured content within that structure. Sounds a lot like database designing? More or less. And good database design is a topic that deserves entire books all on its own. What makes the use of XML so much more tricky in web design is that web pages generally tend to be unstructured at least in appearance. And it takes a lot of planning to structure and categorize content in a web page.

While I can see a lot of potential for XML in so many other contexts where data tends to have more inherent structure, I really don't see XML coming close to mainstream use in standard web development in the near future. XML is definitely for the hardcore developers - not for your average, fancy HTML web designer who uses Frontpage most of the time and has trouble understanding simple cascading style sheets properly. And going by the huge number of websites with poor design and the use of sloppy, malformed HTML, I really cannot see XML in mainstream use in website design and development.
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Intermission: Longhorn humour

Filed under: Bits and Bytes by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 3, 2005 at 11:39 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:48 IST)

Well, most of my articles have been quite serious. I guess it's time for an intermission of sorts. I just remembered an old thread from LinuxQuestions.org when I recently read a news item about Longhorn being renamed to Windows Vista. It's a bit long, but if you have the time I highly recommend that you read it fully. It keeps getting funnier and funnier... You'll be in splits for two full days once you are through with it. Great way to lighten up your day. :D

Here it is: Windows Longhorn Beta Test Results

Is this guy for real? Or was it all an elaborate joke? I leave it to you to decide for yourself!
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